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Hot House

Party political

Claudia Savage-Gore loses sleep plotting a stealth-lavish birthday party

This article is taken from the June 2021 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

So, basically, I’ve always used Hector’s status as a “summer-born boy” to justify any shortfall in academic achievement. But now his August birthday has proved my nemesis. Because, people, kids’ birthday parties are sodding back! And not only am I condemned to host my first actual social gathering in months, but I also have to host the first birthday party proper in Hector’s class for even longer. Like, hashtag no pressure! Why couldn’t his birthday have been in lockdown?

I have two choices: outsource at astronomical cost, or morph into Carole Middleton on whatever has replaced steroids

Essentially, as always with the kids’ parties, I have two choices: outsource at astronomical cost, or morph into Carole Middleton on whatever has replaced steroids. Either way, Hector’s parday is basically my new part-time job until August. This is when people talk fondly about how back in the day it was all pass the parcel and a Power Rangers cake baked by Granny. LOL.

Maybe for some, but having grown up in 90s Hampstead I can assure you it was just as bad back then (bussing the class to Chessington was standard issue, followed by tea at The Waldorf), and the only difference is that now it’s no longer enough to throw money at the problem.

Not only must parties be thoughtfully (read: extortionately) themed — think: mini weddings — but also emphatically not flashy. This stealth- lavish approach demands ethical table-scaping (preferably a whimsical Scandi or French aesthetic), non-violent pinata, a biodegradable balloon arch and a heartfelt plea for NO GIFTS, which obviously must be ignored.

Most oppressive is “the big reveal”, when the birthday boy/girl’s reaction — on entering their own party — is filmed for Instagram. Cue immense ball ache of seeking written permission from fellow parents for their child’s image to appear online …

Unfortunately, at this critical moment, the birthday child usually either bursts into tears of disappointment (because wrong snacks/colour palette/confetti) or fails to look sufficiently cute on film.

It’s then ten takes to get the money shot, by which time the party is running half an hour behind schedule. Longer, if the host mother is an influencer or believes she is.

Asked Hector tentatively whether he was sure he wanted a party. My hope was that a year of retreating into his iPad might have given him sufficient social anxiety to decline, but apparently not. And since we are all obliged to model “kindness” and inclusivity”, a tiny party limited to his three actual friends is out of the question.

At least girls are sufficiently cruel to actively insist that the party be select and discriminatory (ie cheaper and marginally less stressful). Plus, Hector’s at that nightmare age — rising eight — when the parents won’t stick around to help, but the kids are as feral as ever.

Annoyingly the big cat handler we’ve had twice for the girls turned out to be a sex offender — all a bit Tiger King — so I couldn’t default to booking him. Then, having extensively researched renting a cinema, safari park, ZSL, Formula One and tours of Harry Potter studios, Hecky suggested a gelato making workshop at artisanal ice cream parlour Lulu & Buttercup.

Will, unreconstructed as ever, was concerned all this was “a bit girly”. Naturally that immediately made me book 30 places for Hector’s entire year group. Then realised I’d already spent thousands on this thing, and that half Hector’s class won’t even be able to come since the kitchen legally can’t guarantee it’s nut, dairy or egg free and most of them carry epi-pens. Great! #itsmychildspartyandIllcryifIwantto #atleastwedonthavetogivehim abarmitzvah

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